Ag/Sum conference on Agtech

May 26, 2017

The Ag/Sum conference took place in Tokyo this week, assembling some of the most articulate thought leaders and compelling innovations in agricultural technology (agtech or agritech, depending on whom you ask) worldwide. The caliber of the speakers, especially the foreign ones, was truly outstanding. It was an honor to play a small role in this in leading a workshop about VC investing in the domain.

Here are my takeaways from this sector of innovation which I’m still discovering myself:

France and The Netherlands have a reputation as the most innovative countries in Europe when it comes to agtech startups. Worldwide, the list expands to include Brazil, India, Israel, and the U.S.

Surprisingly, in agricultural technology, India is ahead of Japan in many respects. Furthermore, India counts roughly as many farmers as the entire population of Japan.

While the need for innovation in agricultural in many dimensions is staggering, the case for venture capital is not always obvious. For example, large corporations may be better positioned to produce sustaining innovations, foodtech solutions with niche consumer markets make may better lifestyle businesses than VC-backed scale-ups, and other more massively disruptive innovations may be more suitable for alternative types of financing. Dedicated funds with a clear investment thesis have the best chance of success in my opinion. Funds like Agtech_VC, NewProtein, and Seed2Growth come to mind.

Japan’s institutional investor base declares a genuine appetite to invest in agricultural innovation globally. Anybody raising an agtech fund should seriously consider targeting Japan for LPs.

As a discerning consumer, the innovations in food on the horizon look appetizing: from seaweed pasta and bacon, to enhanced superfoods which could make my daily ice cream habit actually healthy.

MBA-types and Techies clamoring to enter the agricultural space have not yet proven as effective as the other way around, i.e. ag experts learning about tech. Perhaps it’s about attitude.

Deep bow to Nikkei and the organizers of Ag/Sum for a brilliant event.

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posted in venture capital by mark bivens

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